Chromodoris Willani

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Narwhal tracking project helps chart species’ future

WWF is supporting a new project to track narwhals, Arctic whales best known for the long tusk that projects forward from their faces.
  Photo: National Institute of Standards and Technology / Wikimedia commons

Pete Ewins, Arctic species specialist for WWF-Canada, said that it is expected the project will contribute fascinating information about the habits of narwhals.

The project partners fitted the little-researched whales with satellite tracking devices. WWF is also launching a web page to showcase the partners’ fieldwork and research, with maps and information about the latest movements of the narwhals as they move around Baffin Bay in Canada’s Nunavut territory.

“We’re supporting this project because it is a chance to better understand these animals while their world changes around them. We know Narwhals are often associated with sea ice, and we know the sea ice is shrinking. WWF is trying to understand how narwhals, as well as all other ice associated animals in the arctic can adapt to a changing environment. We can put this knowledge together with existing Inuit knowledge, and we can work with Inuit and other stakeholders to help the animals survive the coming changes.”

Tracking the Monodon monoceros
The composite maps displayed on the WWF narwhal tracking page show the total paths taken to date by the whales being tracked (most of whom were adult females). Having spent much of the past 10-12 weeks in the fjords and inlets around northern Baffin Island, often probably heading well up these long inlets to escape the increasing number of killer whales now summering in these waters, these narwhals are starting to move out of the area.

Although rapid changes in climatic conditions have been making it increasingly difficult to predict the timing of sea-ice formation in the fall, it is likely that in the next couple of weeks sea-ice will start appearing along the coast and in shallow waters. As temperatures drop regularly well below zero, so the narwhals will steadily move eastwards and into deeper water.

WWF is glad to be able to provide support to this project partnership of the local Inuit community of Pond Inlet, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, the Canadian Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Narwhal Tusk Research project centred at Harvard University, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Calgary Zoo.